Al Groh: When Fairy Tales Go Wrong

Ben GibsonSenior Analyst INovember 9, 2009

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - NOVEMBER 24:  Head coach Al Groh (L) of the Virginia Cavaliers congratulates head coach Frank Beamer of the Virginia Tech Hokies after after the Hokies 33-21 win at Scott Stadium on November 24, 2007 in Charlottesville, Virginia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

On Nov. 28, 2009, Al Groh's coaching career will end.

The 65-year-old head coach of the Virginia Cavaliers has been in his last rodeo.  After nine years of under-achieving and over-blowing its excuses, Groh will be shown the door from his alma mater after a second-straight losing season, three in the past four.

However, this exit will be far from graceful.  As much as we love for our sports figures to go out on top like John Elway in the Super Bowl, Groh will have quite the opposite exit from the sports stage.

Instead of leaving with a legion of adoring fans chanting his name, Groh will be crossing the 50-yard line to shake hands with Hokie coach Frank Beamer after yet another loss to the Cavaliers' arch rival Virginia Tech.

The sound Groh hears as he jogs off the field one last time will not be cheers nor will it be boos.  Instead, Groh will hear something far more damning as a head coach: silence.

Silence because this loss will follow an all-too-familiar script. 

Virginia football is in a far worse situation than angry fans whining on talk radio and under-performing players not living up to the hype.  The program is in a state of complete and utter apathy.

Forget the economic excuses, the fact remains that Virginia's attendance has dropped to its lowest totals since 2000, before Scott Stadium expanded to the approximate capacity of 64,000 it has today.

This year, with its bowl aspirations on the line against Duke, Virginia mustered a meager 41,713 people.  More than a few of them were Duke fans who had made the trip to relish the fact that their Blue Devils are no longer in the ACC cellar.

Virginia has taken over the role as the ACC cellar-dweller and that only adds to the misery of Cavalier fans.  Not to mention it will make Groh's final act that much sadder.

Virginia tried to stick it out with Groh.  After a 17-14 loss to Virginia Tech last season, athletic director Craig Littlepage forced some changes and allowed the buyout price to go down about $2 million in a deal that gave Groh one more season to turn things around.

That restructuring has not exactly garnered faith from the fan base.  That is why ticket sales, even for the Virginia Tech game, were down.  With Virginia in an 0-3 hole, tickets were made available to the public for the Hokie game.

Anyone who has been to Scott Stadium when the Cavaliers take on the Hokies knows that more than a few Tech fans work their way into the crowd.  That number will surely be an all-time high this year with all the extra seats available. Things could get ugly.

Groh's final game will not only likely be another loss to Virginia Tech, moving his overall record to 1-8 against the Hokies, but it was also be in humiliating fashion.  Groh's team will be practically playing a road game at home.

Was that embarrassment really worth $2 million?

Say what you want about Al Groh, I know I have.  Without question, this man has flaws as a head coach of a college football team.  However, no one deserves to go out like this.

Coaching changes happen all the time in sports, but this is different.  Groh has become something of a leper.  His very name seems to stir strong feelings across Charlottesville.  

Groh deserves better than a 3-9 season, the worse season since 1983.  He deserves more than a loss to William & Mary at home.  He does not deserve this nightmarish ending we are slowly plodding towards.

One thing is for sure, this was not the result we all anticipated in 2001.

Granted, revisionist history has changed how we perceive the sweat-shirted commander-in-chief today, but nine years ago, Virginia Cavalier fans were ecstatic when they hired Groh.


Coach Groh had everything a fan could want.  He brought NFL experience as coach of the New York Jets.  Those connections made Virginia an attractive place for recruits to come.  Virginia's original recruiting classes were consistently ranked in or near the top 25 by most recruiting services.

Groh brought a strong discipline to the defensive side of the ball.  He was able to produce NFL talent throughout his nine years and his teams have always ranked well defensively throughout his career at Virginia.

Groh is a guy that really likes the Xs and Os.  He has come up with brilliant game plans that helped shut down future NFL stars like Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Crabtree, Laurence Maroney and Calvin Johnson, among others.

Groh was meant to take Virginia to the next level.  He was going to build upon the roots of his predecessor George Welsh and make the Cavaliers an ACC Championship contender.

It's certainly not as if the ACC has been loaded with great teams. The title has been up for grabs and Groh could not grasp that coveted Orange Bowl ticket.

Indeed, what made the selection of Groh so exciting is the same thing has brought his eventual demise: exposure.

Groh was meant to make Virginia a household name.  He was going to bring in College Game Day, he was going to build big match-ups with Penn State and Southern Cal.

Well Virginia has reached a different level, unfortunately it's a step lower.  Groh has more losing seasons in his nine years than Welsh did in his 18.

The Cavaliers are a footnote in the great tome that is college football.

Coach Groh knows that his days are numbered at the University of Virginia.  Littlepage has openly announced that Groh's job status will be reviewed at the end of the season.  Something tells me a 3-9 campaign, barring an upset, is not going to sit well with the administration.

Time will tell just what the legacy of Al Groh will be at Virginia.

Here is a man that worked so hard for a school he truly loved.  For Groh, there probably was no better job for him than to coach at Virginia.

Without question, Groh tried everything he could to be successful here.  He brought Virginia some big victories against Virginia Tech, Florida State, Penn State, Pittsburgh, Minnesota and West Virginia.

He got Virginia to a No. 5 ranking nationally and was a two-time ACC Coach of the Year.

Groh developed some legendary Virginia players like Matt Schaub and Chris Long.

However, he also oversaw the mediocrity that took Virginia to the bottom of the ACC and brought Virginia Tech to the top.

He watched in-state recruits don the orange and maroon, even in places where the Cavaliers had typically been successful.

He suffered losses that simply could not be tolerated by one of the more forgiving fan bases in the country.

No, it is not a fairytale ending for Al Groh and his coaching career. 

I guess that's why truth is stranger than fiction.


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